Did you know that 1 in 7 girls are unhappy with life? That’s hundreds of thousands of girls. What can young girls possibly have to be unhappy about? Don’t they have it all these days?
I have fond memories of my school days. I remember enjoying primary school – mostly. Except for one particularly sweaty teacher who would get too close, wafting his body odour around the classroom. But, generally, I had a good time. I had plenty of friends in the playground, I went to their houses for tea, they came to mine and made up dances to True Blue by Madonna in my bedroom. We fell out about nothing, we made up the next day.
Senior school was different, but still good. I went to an all-girls school. I’m glad I did, although perhaps it sheltered me from ‘real life’ a little. Again, I had lots of friends, as well as a couple of very close ones. We got caught doing things we shouldn’t, we flirted with the boys from the boys’ school on the school bus, we went shopping after school, spending our allowance on White Musk and kiwi lip balm from The Body Shop. As we got older we had boyfriends, we went to parties, we blagged our way into pubs and clubs whilst very underage; we smoked, we drank, we stayed out all night. Life was good. I know it wasn’t the case for everyone though; those on the periphery of the ‘cool’ groups didn’t always have such a good time. It wasn’t Mean Girls, but, of course, there could be some bitchiness – we were girls spending 8 hours a day together. It happens.
But there was one massive difference between my childhood in the 80s and 90s and that of girls today: the internet.
We didn’t have social media. We had a social life. We didn’t know every little detail of what every person on our friends list had been up to. We had real friends, not a collection of people we’d never met. We had a few rumours and a bit of gossip, but generally we were there, present in the moment. We knew what was happening because we were living it, not sharing the best bits for the express purpose of showing off to others, creating a false reality for others to live up to.
Of course, we were conscious of our looks. We’d alter our strict school uniform as soon as we left the gates at the end of the day; skirts were rolled up to an indecent length, ties were swapped from the fat side to the thin side, blazers were swapped for denim jackets. The Body Shop foundation compacts came out and lipstick was applied (we all wore the same shade!).
Today, the latest research from The Children’s Society states that 34% of girls are unhappy with their appearance, compared to 20% of boys. That’s over one third. There is so much pressure on girls to conform, to pay so much attention to their looks that those who don’t feel they are getting it right are becoming anxious and depressed, and are more likely to face these issues than boys as they grow up. Emotional bullying, such as name-calling, is twice as likely to occur than physical bullying, and girls are more likely to experience this than boys.
I’ll be honest; these statistics scare me. I have a daughter. She’s only four right now, but I am already fearful for her emotional well-being, particularly during her teenage years. Not only because of the findings in this year’s report, and the fact that the numbers are going up and not down, but also because she’s already ‘different’. She’s autistic.
The fact she has autism already puts her at a disadvantage. She, by the very nature of the condition, will struggle with social situations, making and keeping friends, how to handle herself around others. This will make her stand out and she could be an easy target for bullies. She’s only little at the moment, and we don’t know what will happen as she grows up, but I hope that I can help her to develop the tools she’ll need to navigate those tricky years with as little trouble as possible.
What would really help, not just my daughter, but every child in every school, is for there to be dedicated mental health support in schools. The Children’s Society needs support to call on the Government to make sure this can happen. Why not take a look at the ways you can show support on their website? Children need to know there is somewhere they can go, someone they can talk to if they are feeling low, or overwhelmed with life. It makes total sense that schools should get involved as this is where children spend so much of their time and it’s where many of the difficulties occur. Let’s help our children get through their childhood happy!